Author’s note: so it’s the first day of medschool today and I’m already beat! Huehue. Why does it feel like I never even left school? It honestly feels like a mere continuation of my previous school year life ??? back to those sky-high books again *sigh*
Sounds of desperation and war cries echoed into the carrion-black starless sky, as sparks flew from metal against metal, and a blizzard of colorful magic whizzed into the night. The enemy from the northern continent was like the plague, teeming beneath the fortifications along the border, assailing the wall with concentrated power that melted the stone as if it were mere putty. The ground was glazed with entrails and spritz of blood sluiced into the air, baptizing the battlefield with a nauseating perfume.
The war they had all feared would come, had begun.
Luce gripped the handles of his swords, one ice sword in his left, and one of fire in his right hand. He carved and cleaved the enemies within reach, anointing himself of the remnants of blood and bowels. He held no mercy for those who intruded upon the kingdom’s peace, and the promise that he had made to his princess was still deeply engraved in his heart.
“Easy there, Luce,” Alasdair said from beside him as he gripped his own sword, a spiral of water forming at its tip. “Can’t you at least save some enemies for me? I was thinking of making a tsunami, but…I don’t think that would be a good idea. I can’t control that huge of a situation.” He looked around the battlefield, as enemies and allies collided. “Good thing we asked for recruits from the allied kingdoms.” He looked into the horizon, as glittering lights of enemy fleets illuminated the ocean. “I have a feeling this war will last for a long, long time.”
Luce froze one guy in front of him, and charred another enemy on his right. He replied calmly, “The initial army they sent are mere beginners. Perhaps they want to exhaust our mana before the real army comes.”
Alaric quickly rode towards them on horseback once the enemies all turned to corpses on the battlefield. “The battle is not yet over. Father has been given a letter stating that the eight kingdoms of the northern continent want our land of Alastriona.”
“Why must it be just our land?” Alasdair wanted to know as he inserted his sword back into his scabbard after wiping his still pristine blade.
“Brother, you forget that our kingdom is the biggest kingdom in the central continent. If they were to have our kingdom, they could easily swallow the rest of the kingdoms without second thoughts. Furthermore, since we have already advanced agricultural techniques, all they would have to do is take over what we have started. It is the same as you stealing my homework and taking credit for it,” Alaric added as he patted his pouting younger brother on the shoulder.
“So what are we going to do now? Just wait until the fleet arrives?” Alasdair asked, looking into the ocean. “Too bad they made a barrier over their ships, or I could definitely have swallowed them into a whirlpool. Or tsunami.”
“Can you stop going on about tsunamis?” Luce shook his head, retracting the elements back into his palm.
“Easy for you to say. I just found out I have only an aptitude for water magic,” Alasdair’s voice was tinged with jealousy. “You have all the four basic elements, a dream anyone wishes to have.”
Luce twisted his mouth into a wry smile. “I have everything anyone can ever dream of, and yet I cannot have the person of my dreams.” He looked into the starless sky, wondering what his princess was doing now. Did she have a child now? It had already been three years after all. He wouldn’t be surprised. Still, he could not help but feel a sharp stab to his heart. His stomach was beginning to hurt.
Alaric and Alasdair looked at each other, exchanging a language that only blood brothers could understand.
“He’s deep,” Alaric said through his eyes.
“You should learn from him.” Alasdair quirked an eyebrow.
“I can’t reach that depth. Too deep.” Alaric shook his head.
“I’m drowning, too.” Alasdair shook his shoulders.
As they looked on at the solitary figure bathed in the moonlight, the vestiges of carnage surrounding him, they both sighed and agreed, “He’s too pitiful…”
“Callel, you can sit on mommy’s lap while I work,” Alenaire said as she sat at her desk in the drawing room.
The two year old Callel happily agreed as he practically ran up to her chair to climb up her legs.
“How about daddy?” Zephyr asked as he spread his arms out. “Callel? Won’t you come with daddy to the barracks?”
Callel looked back at his father, then completely ignored him as he snuggled closer to his mother.
“I don’t think Callel wants to see the barracks, Zephyr,” Alenaire said, amused.
Zephyr sighed. “I’ll be leaving in a few days to command the army. The enemy has infiltrated Rhiannon borders as well, so I must go and oversee it. They said they were only going to attack Alastriona, but they lied. After I defeat them, I will go to Alastriona and help.”
Alenaire held on to the squirming child in her arms. “Stay safe, Zephyr.”
He smiled at her and kissed her cheek. “If what I will do will keep you safe, then I must go.” He stroked Callel’s soft hair, and the little boy smiled brightly at him.
“Daddy, daddy!” He held out his hands, and Zephyr took him from his wife’s lap to embrace him in his arms.
“Oh Callel, I wish I could be with you longer, but I don’t want to leave the war in the hands of my people. It is like sending them off to the slaughterhouse without a care. Being physically present would boost their moraIe as well.” He rubbed his cheek against his son’s, his heart warming from Callel’s giggles.
Alenaire smiled softly as she stood up from her seat to embrace her husband from behind. “Thank you for everything, Zephyr. You are a very kind and generous husband.”
“Is that not a given?” Zephyr turned around to embrace his wife with his free arm. “When you love someone as much as I do you, it is normal to act that way.” He kissed the top of her head. “Dear wife, it pains me not to know when I’ll be able to return.”
“Don’t worry, Zephyr. This kingdom is slowly turning back to its original state. The reforms I have made has slowly shaped the country into glory. But who knew that so much corruption went on while your father was indisposed. His neglect of his kingdom was the catalyst to ruination.” Zephyr smiled grimly in response. He was glad that his wife knew so much about how a country was run, and he was beyond grateful to her. He himself did not hold much knowledge on court matters or any other political system, and he had to rely on his wife for it, even if he felt his pride as the king squashed into smithereens. But he didn’t care. He loved his wife even more for it.
“But I will continue to work hard, especially now that the war has begun,” Alenaire said with resoluteness.
“I leave the kingdom in your hands,” Zephyr said, pushing his glasses up his nose as he smiled at her tenderly.
“You can count on me,” Alenaire replied.
“It seems I have counted on you a lot…” Zephyr said dryly.
“You’re welcome,” Alenaire said with an upward tilt to her lips.
“I love you so much,” Zephyr’s words were blurted out upon seeing the smile that seemed to shine on her face. He could feel his heart ache just by looking at her, and he was afraid that this would be the last time he would see her roseate smile and the euphonious sound of her laughter. Because he was afraid, he said what he felt over and over again, making sure that his wife knew of his heart if this were to be the last words she was going to hear. He put Callel on the ground as he embraced his wife fiercely, burying her surprised face in his shoulder. He cried, his heart burning with a thousand flames that seemed never to extinguish, “I love you, Alenaire. I love you…”
Alenaire’s eyes misted over, as his confession smothered her heart. Although she had also come to love this person before her, it was more of a familial and platonic kind of love that would never match what she held for a certain knight.
But she did indeed feel the emotion, and so she whispered, “I love you too.”
A happy sob escaped his lips as he heard the words he had longed to hear (albeit knowing full well that it purported disparately), and he could not stop whispering the words that spewed forth like an avalanche of a thousand “I love you’s”.
Alenaire perused through the ledgers of the Royal treasury and the regional accounts of the kingdom, and she felt her head ache. She massaged her temples and closed her eyes.
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Callel asked as he touched his mother’s face as he sat on her lap.
Alenaire kissed his nose. “Why are you such an adorable potato? For some reason, that is what comes to mind when I see your round face.”
Callel giggled, and kissed her nose back.
Seiran was standing beside Alenaire as she sat at her working desk, and said, “You’re still four years old Callel, these financial matters don’t concern you just yet.”
“But I’m going to be the next king after daddy, right?” Callel tilted his head, his honey blonde hair swaying with the motion. “I should know these stuff, right?”
“Well…that’s true…” Seiran scratched his head.
“I am so disappointed in myself,” Alenaire sighed. “How did I overlook the inconsistency of these two financial statements?”
“What’s wrong?” Seiran asked.
“The five noble houses who are also the tax collectors of the five different regions, have inflated the taxes without informing me.” Alenaire held out the regional accounts for Seiran to speculate. “See there? That’s more than the usual tax I ask for. And here,” Alenaire picked up the Royal accounts, “The amount I have calculated should not be as low as this, if the regional taxes the nobles have collected are high.”
Seiran raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. Perhaps a crime of graft is in the works. The ongoing war has already eaten up our financial capacities, and yet these nobles dare to trick us just because it seems our eyes are focused somewhere else.”
Alenaire massaged her temples harder. “It’s all because this country does not have a proper system. I should have my own Royal secretary, treasurer and auditor instead of those ancient people who form that stupid council. Can you believe all the nonsense they have written for me to sign? What kind of law entails all nobles to have at least two slaves per person? Do they think I am stupid and I cannot read?!”
“Mommy, calm down. Daddy will worry.” Callel patted his mother’s cheek again.
Alenaire kissed his cheek, but could not hold her diatribe. “Do they really think that because I am female, I know nothing of political practices? Bah! Wait until I write down my final decree to abolish slavery.” She pondered for a few seconds. “Maybe I should abolish that stupid council as well…” Alenaire clenched her fists. “I should just abolish everything!”
Seiran chuckled. “Whatever you will do, I will help you in any way I can.”
“Go mommy!” Callel waved his arms around.
“Seiran, I should just appoint you as my Royal chamberlain,” Alenaire said after a thought. “You will be my right-hand man now that my husband is not here.”
“I am happy you think so highly of me, master, ” Seiran said.
“Why not? Your intelligence astounds me.” Alenaire beamed. “I do not have a memory as good as yours. You can practically memorize everything you see just once.”
Seiran shrugged, pretending not to be so embarrassed by the flattery.
During the years that Alenaire was in Rhiannon, she had already outlined a law that entailed the emancipation of slaves throughout the kingdom, but it was only during the recent days that she finally had the time to finish it, as she had been bombarded with endless paperwork that needed much attention during the war. She still could not abolish the council of elders, as she did not know where to find people to replace them, and what she had to do first was to establish schools that were opened to everyone, and not just to the elite society. The literacy and educational rate were low, and she had to rectify those first.
As the war progressed, Alenaire prevented the Rhiannon army from conscripting peasants and slaves to join in the war efforts. If the farmers were gone, what would happen to the crops? What would happen to food? Their kingdom would starve, and a price inflation of foodstuff was inevitable. It would all lead to a spiral of ruin. She didn’t want slaves to enter as well, as she realized that they held no choice over their lives, and it would be too tragic if they also held no choice over their deaths. The original army of Rhiannon was not that large, but it was enough to cover their borders and send a few troops to the other allied kingdoms.
The Queen Alenaire held court a few weeks later with the Prince Callel sitting on his own throne beside her to watch the proceedings.
All the nobles, the council of elders, and a few commoners who wanted to be simple bystanders were present, and they all kneeled before their Queen, their mouths in a taut line. The nobles and the council had been told that the Queen was about to release a law that would abolish slavery, and they had already made up a speech of repudiation in their heads. The slaves were beneficial to them, as they did not need a salary. It was a one time purchase that they could throw away if they wanted to. They were practically free workers who tilled the lands without asking for anything in return, becoming fundamental buttresses to the upper echelons’ wealth and prosperity.
“Representatives of the five noble houses, come forth,” the Queen Alenaire declared, her voice regal and commanding. She sat on her gilded throne, full of poise and with an air of intimidation. She could not wait to skewer these insensate humans alive.